Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 131-139
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 131
A Critique of Atheistic Humanism in the
Quest for Human Dignity
Precious Uwaezuoke Obioha
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of A rts, Olabisi Onabanjo University,
Ago-Iwoye, Niger ia
Received September 26th, 2012; r evised October 27th, 2012; accepted November 10th, 2012
A challenge confronting the human person in contemporary society is the abuse to his personality which
constitutes a bane to his dignity and well-being which has continued to be on the increase despite various
theoretical attempts at addressing the issue of abuse to human dignity. One of such theoretical attempts,
which is atheistic humanism, has failed in its quest to enhancing the dignity of man because it has ne-
glected the theistic background necessary for understanding, relating to and the treatment of the human
person. This paper therefore, aims at a critical analysis of atheistic humanism in its quest for human dig-
nity with a view to showing its implications for the dignity and well-being of man. The paper employs the
critical method of philosophy with a view to showing the inconsistencies and the implications of an athe-
istic humanistic understanding of man. The paper thereafter states that a theistic humanistic understanding
and treatment of the human person better provides the ground for the pursuit and realization of human
dignity and well-being.
Keywords: Humanism; Human Dignity; Human Well-Being; Theism; Human Values; Human Person
A major problem in the contemporary society is the rate at
which human life is being pulverized and human dignity de-
graded with reckless abandon, which is due largely to a wrong
or inadequate understanding of the human person. Human life
is increasingly becoming capricious and constantly under threat
of imminent extinction. There is much frustration in the world
today, coupled with wars and counter wars, unending civil un-
rests and terrorist attacks in almost all the continents of the
world. On daily bases, there are undeniable cases of abuse of
the fundamental human rights of the people and constant viola-
tions of the dignity of man.
However, as characteristic of man—the Homo sapiens, he is
constantly in search for the truth for a better life. So he evolves
ideas and theories that he thinks will help liberate him and re-
stores to him his dignity and honour for a flowering personality.
One of such theories which he claims can restore human dignity
and promote human well-being is Atheistic Humanism. Atheis-
tic humanism emphasizes the dignity and worth of the individ-
ual and appears to be in the crusade for the pursuit of the dig-
nity of the human person. Although the pursuit of human dig-
nity and worth is the goal of atheistic humanism, however in
this paper I argue that this goal as set out by atheistic humanism
cannot be achieved and is not achievable given the philosophy
behind atheistic humanism. This philosophy is counter-produc-
tive to the achievement of human well-being. Through many
other arguments which I canvassed for in this paper, I come to
agree with Maduabuchi Dukor that humanism that is not theis-
tically founded and coloured cannot promote human values and
consequently cannot promote human dignity.
There are two major approaches or better still two kinds of
humanism. One, those who give humanism a secular or atheis-
tic approach and two, those who give it a theistic approach.
However, the name humanism is popularly understood from its
secular/atheistic perspective. In this paper, the term humanism
would be taken to refer to secular/atheistic humanism unless
where otherwise stated.
Dignity is a word for “worth”, and a theory of dignity is a
philosophy of value. In the Thomistic synthesis, dignity or
value is imbedded in substance, an objective reality distinct
from, though related to, any subjective reaction to it. The hon-
our due dignity does not lie in the object, but it is a reaction to
some excellence in that object of honour (Aquinas 1-II, q 2). So,
dignity is the intrinsic worth that inheres in every human being.
From the Catholic perspective, the source of human dignity is
rooted in the concept Imago Dei, and our ultimate destiny of
union with God.
What Is Humanism?
The question what is humanism is pertinent here because the
answer to it will enable us to see whether the logic of human-
ism is sound enough to take us to its acclaimed goal of ensuring
human total well-being and dignity. According to Paul Kurtz
(2000) who is regarded today as the father of secular humanism,
humanism is a Eupraxophy. For him Eupraxophy is derived
from the following roots: eu-praxis, and Sophia. Eu—is a pre-
fix that means “good,” “well”, “advantageous.” Praxis (or
prassein) refers to “action doing, or practice.” (Eupraxia means
“right action” or “good conduct”. The suffix Sophia is derived
from sophos (“wise”) and means “wisdom”. Humanism as a
eupraxophy is a philosophy of good and wise action. In hu-
manism the action is not only good and wise but also philoso-
phical, scientific and ethical in out-look (Kurtz, 2000). Accord-
ing to Micola Abbagnano (1967) humanism locates the source
of values on human rationality and therefore opposed to all
varieties of beliefs that seek supernatural sanction for their
values. Dukor writes that, “one of the earliest philosophers, and
one of the most important to atheistic humanist thinking, is
Protagoras who founded the school of professional travelling
teachers known as “Sophists” on the principle that practical
human knowledge is more useful than searching for the whole
truth. This humanism has man as its centre point. It originated
from man and ends in man. The referent point is not God, the
creator but the material” (Dukor, 2010: p. 64).
It is in this light that many trace humanism to the ancient
Greek philosopher Protagoras, who said, “Man is the measure
of all things”. The interpretation today is that man is the ulti-
mate standard by which all life is measured and judged. Thus
values, law, justice, good, beauty, and right and wrong all are to
be judged by man made rules with no credence to either God or
the Bible. Largely corroborating this view, Angeles (1981: p.
116) defines philosophical humanism as follows:
A philosophy that 1) regards the rational individual as the
highest values; 2) considers the individual to be the ulti-
mate source of value; and 3) is dedicated to fostering the
individual’s creative and moral development in meaning-
ful and rational way without reference to concepts of the
So said, it appears that all atheistic humanists believe that
moral values are relative to human experience; that all intrinsic
moral values are based on human desires and interest; that hu-
mans rather than some divine being decide what is morally
valuable. These are various interpretations of the thesis that
humans are the measure of all things. The roots of modern
secular humanism date back to the renewed emphasis on man
during the renaissance. This revival of classical leaning and
emphasis on man did not exclude God as man’s maker, but it
focused attent ion away from Him, as man made great stride on
his own. Later God was de-emphasized to the point where he
was no longer seen as an infinite worker in creation and father
to mankind and before long, deism became a prominent view.
Deism affirmed belief in God, but a God who was not involved
in the affairs of men. Deism soon gave way to naturalism, a
world view which dismissed God completely from the scene.
Humanism entered the nineteenth century through the French
philosopher, Comte, who was committed to the secularization
of science, and through British utilitarianism via English deism.
These serve as a backdrop for twentieth century naturalism and
pragmatism. Through such men as Schiller and especially
Dewey, the modern tenets of secular humanism began to take
their expressed form.
What constitutes the principles, the ideals, and the goals of
secular humanism can be found in the Humanism Manifesto I
and II. These documents spell out the vision and the mission of
humanism. In 1933 a group of thirty-four liberal humanists in
the United State defined and enunciated the philosophical and
religious principles that seemed to them fundamental. They
drafted Humanist Manifesto I which was concerned with ex-
pressing a general philosophical and religious outlook that re-
jected orthodox and dogmatic positions and provided meaning
and direction, unity and purpose to human life. It was also com-
mitted to reason, science, and democracy (Kurtz, 1973). The
Humanist Manifesto I reflected the general optimism of the
time immediately after World War I. Mankind was convinced
that it had ably weathered, in the war, the greatest evil imagin-
able, and that the future perfection of humanity was now possi-
ble. Mankind had proved that it could triumph over evil.
In summary, the Humanist Manifesto I dealt with 15 major
themes, or convictions, of secular humanism. It asserted that the
universe was self-existing and not created; that man is a result
of a continuous natural process; that mind is a projection of
body and nothing more; that man is molded mostly by his
creature; that there is no supernatural; that man has outgrown
religion and any idea of God; that man’s goal is the develop-
ment of his own personality, which ceases to exist at death; that
man will continue to develop to the point where he will look
within himself and to the natural world for the solution to all
his problems; that all institutions and or religions that in some
way impede this “human well-being” must be changed; that
socialism is the ideal form of economics and that all of man-
kind deserves to share in the fruits from following the above
No doubt, the conclusion to the Humanist Manifesto I clearly
reflects the anti supernatural and optimistic, self-centered aims
of its signers. They write:
Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our
fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is
still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming
aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the
world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power
for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to
the task (Kurtz, 1973: p. 10).
However, contrary to the prophesies and convictions of the
drafters of Humanist Manifesto I, World War II and Adolph
Hitler rudely contradicted the unmitigated optimism of the
secular humanists. McDowell (1983) points out that, not only
had World War I failed to rout evil, but evil had reared its ugly
head much more powerfully through the Nazi atrocities of
World War II. Having rejected the supernatural and a higher
judge in favour of the basic goodness and perfectibility of man,
the secular humanists turned toward modifying their previous
statements. Kurtz and Wilson explained the need for a new
manifesto. They write:
It is forty years since Humanist Manifesto I (1933) ap-
peared. Events since then make that earlier statement
seem far too optimistic. Nazism has shown the depths of
brutality of which humanity is capable. Other totalitarian
regimes have suppressed human rights without ending
poverty. Science has sometimes brought evil as well as
good. Recent decades have shown that inhuman wars can
be made in the name of peace. The beginning of police
states, even in democratic societies, widespread govern-
ment espionage, and other abuses, of power by military,
political and industrial elites, and the continuance of un-
yielding racism, all present a different and difficult social
outlook. In various societies, the demand of women and
minority groups for equal rights effectively challenges our
generation (Kurtz, 1973: p. 13).
Based on the above mentioned unfavourable social outlook
of our times, Kurtz and Wilson state the need and the necessity
for affirmative and hopeful vision and faith commensurate with
advancing knowledge. They further added that as in 1933 hu-
manists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons,
to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do
something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. For
them Salvationism, based on mere affirmation still appears as
harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter.
They conclude that reasonable minds look to other means for
survival and that today it is their (humanist) conviction that
humanism offers that alternative that can serve present needs
and guide humankind toward the future (Kurtz, 1973).
Being no longer content and certain to let basically good
mankind evolve naturally toward his zenith, the secular human-
ists are now poised to help accomplish that transformation as
quickly as they can by thwarting the evil of the few evil men.
This objective is declared in the introduction to the resolutions
in the second creed. It states:
Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures.
We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not re-
nounce them to fuse reason with compassion in order to
build constructive social and moral values. Confronted by
many possible futures, we must decide which to pursue.
The ultimate goal should be the fulfillment of the poten-
tial for growth in each human personality. Not for the fa-
voured few, but for all mankind only a shared world and
global measures will suffice. A humanist outlook will tap
the creativity of each human being and provide the vision
and courage for us to work together. This outlook empha-
sizes the role human beings can play in their own spheres
of action. The decades ahead call for dedicated, clear-
minded men and women able to marshal the will, intelli-
gence, and cooperative skills for shaping a desirable fu-
ture. Humanism can provide the purpose and inspiration
that so many seek; it can give personal meaning and sig-
nificance to human life (Kurtz, 1973: pp. 14-15).
The excerpt above gives us an insight into the purpose of
humanism. The preciousness and dignity of the individual per-
son is a central humanist value. Individuals should be encour-
aged to realize their own creative talents and desires. Humanists
reject all religious, ideological, or moral codes that denigrate
the individual, suppress freedom, dull intellect, and dehumanize
personality. They believe in maximum individual autonomy
consonant with social responsibility. Although science can
account for the causes of behaviour, humanist believe that pos-
sibilities of individual freedom of choice exist in human life
and should be increased.
To be honest, this is a noble purpose, an ideal that must be
pursued. However, the question is has humanism achieved this
ideal? Can humanism achieve this? Are the realities of our
world today in consonance with these ideals? Is our world to-
day free from the social and environmental crises that negate
these ideals? The answer is No. But why? Or is it because hu-
manists are mistaken in these ideals? It is neither the case. The
ideals are not in themselves impossibilities though they are not
easy to realize given the nature of the human person. Humanists
are not mistaken in pursuing these ideals. In fact, these are no-
ble ideals and the dream of mankind. However, the failure hu-
manism has recorded and continues to record and will continue
to record lies in the philosophy behind humanism. That phi-
losophy is in fact counterproductive to humanist pursuit of
human dignity and worth. This is what we are out to argue in
this paper.
A Critical Look at Atheistic Humanism
Vis-a-Vis Human Dignity
We intend to show the counterproductive nature of human-
ism in its quest for human dignity through though a general
critique of humanism. There are 17 propositions contained in
Manifesto II and these propositions can be grouped into six
namely: religion, philosophy, mankind, society, one-world
government and science.
The first resolution under religion is that traditional dogmatic
or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or
creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the
human species. And that any account of nature should pass the
tests of scientific evidence otherwise such account is absurd
and meaningless. Humanists claim that the dogmas and myths
of traditional religions are by this standard absurd and mean-
ingless. They equally claim that belief in the existence of the
supernatural is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question
of the survival and fulfillment of the human race because there
is no sufficient evidence for it. Humanists claim that we can
discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species
and that while there is much that we do not know, humans are
responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save
us; we must save ourselves.
The second resolution is that the promises of immortal salva-
tion or fear of eternal damnation are both ill usory and harmf ul.
They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actu-
alization, and from rectifying social injustices.
The world view expressed by these two resolutions is that
God does not exist and that it is nature rather than God that is
responsible for human existence. However, this is opposed to
sound reason. McDowell argues that, “For primordial, non-
intelligent mass to produce human intelligence assumes, con-
trary to reason, that an effect is greater than its cause. To ac-
count for that human intelligence by a higher intelligence in
whose image the human was made, and who sustains the very
life of the human and his world, is reasonable, and biblical”
(McDowell, 1983: p. 8). In fact, for humanists to blithely dis-
miss all religious philosophy and all evidence in support of
God’s existence in two simple propositions does not settle the
matter of God’s existence. We rather believe that our reasoning
ability given to us by God in whose image we are created, and
that responsible use of our reasoning ability to understand the
world around us can lead us to sound evidence for the existence
of God. Richard Purtill (1981: pp. 12-13) corroborated this idea
when he writes that,
If we begin to ask fundamental questions about the uni-
verse, and follow the argument where it leads us, then it
will lead us to belief in God; that if we examine the evi-
dence of history and of human experience, we will be
compelled to acknowledge that the only satisfactory ex-
planation of the evidence leads us to Christianity. Such
Christians acknowledge that there is still a gap between
intellectual assent and commitment to a Christian way of
life, but they believe that reason is neither opposed to
such a commitment nor irrelevant to it-rather, it is the best
possible ground for it.
Making his contribution to the issue of God’s existence, the
French philosopher Blaise Pascal states that, “The evidence of
God’s existence and his gift is more than compelling, but those
who insist that they have no need of Him, will always find
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 133
ways to discount the offer” (Pascal, 1985: p. 23).
In his attempt to re-establish the existence of God as against
the claims of atheistic humanists that God does not exist, Dukor
(2010: pp. 72-77) first lists about 14 arguments giving by the
atheistic humanists to the conclusion that God does not exist.
However, for the reasons of space, we only mention a few of
One, it is not possible to believe in all different gods which
have been put forward from different religions. If they cannot
all be true, then can none of them be true. Two, if God is om-
nipotent and all good, disaste r s ca n n ot exist in the world. Three,
if God is all good and he created all men and women in his own
image, people cannot behave so abnormally. Four, to describe
God as the originator of the universe is not an answer to the
question where did everything start, for we need to know the
origin of the originator. Five, God’s purpose is not visible in the
universe. Certainly there is no evidence that the universe’s
purpose leads up to mankind. Six, it is argued that God is de-
rived from personal experience. It is a subjective experience,
which is difficult to convey to those who have not experienced
them. To the outsider, they might be regarded as hallucinations
or imagination. Since, some people do not have such experi-
ences they cannot be used to prove the existence of anything
any more than someone might try to prove the existence of their
dreams. Seven, theists have always claimed that it is up to the
atheists to prove their atheism. On the contrary, it is up to the-
ists to prove theism. In the same way in debating the existence
of God, there should be a presumption of atheism, they argue.
Responding to these arguments, Dukor states that since athe-
ism is the backbone or the foundation of humanism, or atheistic
humanism to be precise, then there is the intellectual and prac-
tical need to dismantle the foundation by establishing strong
arguments against the arguments of atheistic humanism. In
doing this, Dukor states that God is the creator of man and hu-
manism; that God is the first humanist not because he is a man
but because he has, in grace, endowed man with the divine and
providential gift of being elevated over and above all creatures
of the earth and farther than that to conquer the rest of the crea-
tures (Dukor, 2010). Dukor further opines that the atheistic
humanists would have to believe that God is a humanist
whether they believe in His sustenance or not and God again is
the creator and founder of humanism contrary to the belief that
man founded himself and founded humanism. Dukor makes
this claim of the humanistic attributes of God on the basis of
the submissions of the writer of Genesis chapter two:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the
host of them. And on the seventh day, God ended his
work which he had made, and he rested on the seventh
day from all this which he had made … and every plant of
the field before it was on the earth, and every herb of the
field before it grew. For the Lord God had not caused it to
rain upon the earth and there was not a man to till the
ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breadth of life;
and man became a living soul.
Based on the above scriptural excerpt, Dukor claims that all
atheistic and philosophical arguments against God’s existence
are indirect arguments for the exaltation of God. He now takes
up the above listed seven arguments and responds to them one
after the other.
One, there are no gods of religions but God of religions
which is the monotheistic God, the humanistic God and creator
of man and humanism. The gods of religions which the atheis-
tic humanists are using against the existence of God is the
panpsychic and animistic gods of the ancient Africa, ancient
Asia and ancient Europe, all of which have been conceptually
and physically harmonized in the monotheistic God.
Two, in the face of disasters, the omnipotence and all good-
ness of God cannot be questioned. Disasters occur because man,
like Voltaire, does not have the understanding first, that man
has a freewill to have foreknowledge or not, to use it or not and
the nots of all these could lead to disasters which in any case,
according to Saint Augustine in his plenitude, is a blessing in
Three, people behave abnormally because they are atheistic
and secondly because they lack the knowledge of the good or
they refused to be good according to Socrates.
Four, from Genesis in the bible, we are told, and there is am-
ple evidence to that effect, that God is the originator of the
universe and the dust from which man is created and everything
in the universe. He created matter from where the evolutionists
traced everything. Logically the universe must have a begin-
ning and the beginning is not the beginning of itself.
Five, God’s purpose is visible in the universe. What the
atheistic humanists think of man is what God created man for,
that is, man’s domination of all things in the earth and continu-
ing the creative process started by Him.
Six, God and the whole universe is a subjective concept
whose objectivity is in the objectivity of the earth and other
galaxies. Perfection in the orderly arrangements in the universe
is a matter of subjective but artistic appreciation. Therefore God
as a perfect being can only be experienced subjectively and
communicated intersubjectively.
Seven, it is up to atheists to prove that there is no God, no
dreams, no intuition, no order in the universe, no perfection in
creation, no spirit, no soul, no witchcraft, no devil, no creativity
by man or God, no gods as evidence of God.
The only conclusion we can draw from Dukor’s analysis here
is that God is at the centre of man’s life and the universe and
therefore any life outside God or any attempt to understand the
universe fully outside God will end up in meaninglessness and
futility. And when life ends in futility and meaninglessness, it
loses its dignity.
Be that as it may, the problem with humanism is not really
whether God exists or not. The problem is the banishment of
God, by humanist from human existence and experiences. The
humanists claim that man has no need of God in his life, that
God holds no relevance or importance to man and his existence.
Following from this, they also claim that there is no design or
purpose of providence for the human species. This view de-
valuates man to a level below that on which God places him as
His highest creation. The humanists pretend to esteem the hu-
man being above all else. In reality, as Manifesto II shows, the
humanists take away all worth from mankind. How? Unless our
worth is rooted and grounded in something objective and out-
side ourselves, we are of value only to ourselves, and can never
rise above the impermanence of our own short lives. God is
outside our finite and transitory universe and His love for us
gives us a value which transcends not only ourselves but our
finite universe as well.
In the world besieged by war, violence, hunger, diseases and
general social disorder such as ours, there is no gainsaying the
fact that we need courage to keep life going. And that this
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
courage is founded on hope and faith in a loving, caring and
faithful God. This is the succor that religion or belief in God
brings; and this is not an empty succor. Without such belief or
faith, life becomes absurd and meaningless in the face of dis-
appointments, failures and difficulties. This perhaps explains
why there are many cases of suicide in many secular (humanist)
societies like America than there are in religious societies like
Africa. Despite the high level of sufferings in Africa most Af-
ricans do not take to suicide. They go through the sufferings
and challenges of life with hope and faith that things will get
better one day, and sooner or latter, things do get better. Mira-
cle is a function of belief and faith in God’s intervention in the
affairs of man. Africans or those who believe in miracles do
receive miracles from God for their challenges. There are veri-
fiable cases of miracles amongst Africans and indeed amongst
those (any where) who believe in God’s existence and God’s
involvement in man’s affairs. This is the pragmatic benefit for
belief and faith in God.
To Africans and indeed to anyone who believes in God life is
therefore not absurd and meaningless even in the midst of dis-
appointment and difficulties. One thing that is anti-human pro-
gress and in fact, anti-human dignity is an attitude of faithless-
ness, lack of courage and the inability to hold on to life in the
face of life challenges. There is nothing dignifying of man to
lose courage, faith and hope for the future, and then ends one’s
life either through suicide or euthanasia, because of the present
challenges of life. But the ability to hold on to the future, even
when it is irrational to do so, is a function of faith in God who
is involved in human affairs. This is one attitude that humanists
lack and this perhaps explains why they may not see anything
wrong with suicide or euthanasia. And this may also explain
why there are many cases of suicide in secular (humanist) so-
cieties. Is there any dignity of life in such attitude? Does such
attitude contribute positively to the quest for human dignity by
humanism? Unfortunately, the answer is No.
Giving credence to the above submissions, Dukor is of the
view that the whole of African philosophy and even that of
Indian philosophy is replete with humanism that is theistically
coloured. It is humanistic because it is centered on man’s es-
sence and existence but it is also theistic because it makes a
strong reference and link to God who is at the centre of man’s
existence and experiences. Therefore the Indians and indeed the
Africans manifest deep faith in God in dealing with their vari-
ous existential experiences in life both positive and negative.
They recognize the fact that God is the authority over the af-
fairs of men. Dukor writes,
Buddha’s historic science about God as the metaphysical
entity and supernatural authority in the affairs of men is
humanistically motivated. On the other hand, the African
attitude is that theism or conception of God is a necessary
denomination in all human affairs. In Indian philosophy
and African philosophy we find that in a particular sense,
these philosophies are humanistic but their humanism is
combined with theism (Dukor, 2010: pp. 63-64).
What Dukor is saying here is that Indian and African phi-
losophies of man is humanistic and at the same time theistic
giving their deep rooted faith in the spiritual. He recognizes the
fact that this recognition of and acceptance of the spiritual ele-
ment in man has enabled them to deal with the problem of suf-
fering and have converted same to an advantage unlike their
counterparts in heavily atheistic humanistic environments who
are easily defeated in the face of sufferings.
Having banished God from human existence humanists be-
lieve that man need nothing outside him, nothing transcendent,
to save him; that man can save himself. This is what humanist
Manifest II states. While we believe this statement was made
somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since humanists do not believe man
needs saving from anything, we do still need to comment on the
statement. McDowell has argued that it is impossible for man to
save himself in all circumstances. He writes,
While we would grant that man could “save himself”
from falling after a slip by grabbing a railing, for example,
it is not always possible. Picture a man in the middle of a
large lake. He has fallen from his boat, which is now
hopelessly out of reach. He has been in the frigid water
for two hours. He can no longer keep himself afloat. His
body temperature is fallen rapidly. He is being delirious.
Would he find solace and genuine help in a bystander’s
admonition to “save himself”? Of course not. Without
outside intervention, he will die. The spiritual (moral)
condition of man is such that he is past the point of it
saving himself. He needs outside intervention … and that
intervention is from God. (McDowell, 1981: p. 14).
By intervention here, McDowell means salvation from God.
That man needs salvation is a truism. Most religions of the
world attest to this truth. And this truth negates humanists’
claim to man’s self-sufficiency and basic goodness. Man is not
self-sufficient. No one has more clearly expressed this point
than the great Blaise Pascal, who was one of the seventeenth-
century pioneers of modern science, and incidentally invented
one of the first arithmetical computing machines (It should be
noted that modern science today i.e. scientism repudiates the
idea of God and creationism). His famous pensees Thoughts on
Religion and Philosophy (1894: pp. 9-10,46) contains some of
the most penetrating analysis ever written of the predicament in
which man lands himself by rejecting his creator’s authority
over his priorities. He says, “The essence of self-love is to love
only oneself, to be interested for nothing but oneself. But what
is gained by this? A man cannot prevent this object of his love
from being full of defects and miseries, he wishes to be great,
and sees himself to be little, he wishes to be happy, and feels
himself miserable; he wishes to be perfect, and sees himself full
of imperfections, he wishes to be an object of esteem and love
of his fellow men, and sees that his faults deserve their aversion
and contempt. This embarrassment produces the most unjust
and animal passion imaginable; for he conceives a mortal ha-
tred against that truth which forces him to behold and condemn
his faults; he wishes it were annihilated, and unable to destroy it
in its essence, endeavours to destroy it to his own apprehension,
and that of others; that is he employs his utmost efforts to con-
ceal his defects, both from himself and others, and cannot bear
that men should point them out to him, or even see them. Cer-
tainly, to be full of defects is an evil, but it is a much greater
evil, if we are full of them, to be unwilling to know the fact;
since this is adding a voluntary illusion to their number … what
a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a
compound of inconsistencies! A judge of all things, yet a feeble
earthworm: a depository of truth, yet a heap of uncertainty: the
glory and the outcast of the universe”.
Pascal’s message, however, is fundamentally not one of de-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 135
spair but of hope—the marvelous hope that comes when we
stop pretending to self-sufficiency and accept the humbling
Truth that can heal us. For amongst other astonishing facts of
the Christian religion (and some religions) this is one, that it
reconciles man to himself in reconciling him to God. Our
self-will is never satisfied, even when it has obtained all it de-
sires, but we are satisfied the instant we renounce it. Reinhold
Niebuhr (1941: p. 213) has more pungently expressed this
thought when he says, “Religion is not as is generally supposed
an inherently virtuous quest for God, it is merely the final bat-
tleground between God and man’s self-esteem.”
In the same vein, on his part, Mackay (1979: p. 113) states
that, “man’s truest dignity can be realized only by facing up to
the reality, whatever the cost: whether it be at the cost of his
self-esteem or anything else. If we pre-define what that reality
must be, in a spirit of self-sufficiency and proud rejection of
any claims on our obedience by our creator, we can block our-
selves off from the one way in which we could discover what
reality is about by coming to know its Giver-conversely, if we
will only allow that Giver to get under our self-esteem, to
re-order our priorities, we will find our eyes being opened. We
will come to realize the truth-indeed the sobering truth-of the
biblical diagnosis of our condition, and the glorious truth of the
remedy that God has made available…” However, although
man is lost and so needs salvation from God, it does not vitiate
the greatness of man. Francis Shaeffer (1969: pp. 80-81) writes,
I am convinced that one of the great weaknesses in evan-
gelical preaching in the last few years is that we have lost
sight of the biblical fact that man is wonderful. We have
seen the unbiblical humanism which surrounds us, and, to
resist this in our emphasis on man’s lostness, we have
tended to reduce man to zero. Man is indeed lost, but that
does not mean he is nothing. We must resist humanism,
but to make man a zero is neither the right way nor the
best way to resist it … in short, therefore, man is not a cog
in a machine ; he is not a piece of thea ter; he really can in-
fluence history. From the biblical view point, man is lost,
but great.
So said, the pronouncement of the death of God or the ban-
ishment of God from human existence goes without grave con-
sequences for mankind. Mortimer writes that, “part of Nietz-
sche’s brilliance was that he clearly saw and acknowledged the
impact that the death of God would have on society. I believe
that he predicted the twentieth century would be the bloodiest
in history, as people grappled with his “truth” but that this
negative impact would be temporary, ceasing with the emer-
gence of the superman. I think that he was half-right—the
twentieth century has indeed been bloody”. Why does Morti-
mer consider Nietzsche’s prophesy half right? It is because the
twentieth century has indeed been bloody but to say that such
negative impact would cease with the emergence of the super-
man would be untrue.
The bloody nature of our century today also invalidates
secular humanist claim that man is naturally good. Secular hu-
manism assumes that everyone is basically good and that evil
comes from outside people and societies, rather than from
within. However the realities of our times negate the truth of
this claim. There are wars, and counter war terrorism and other
violent crimes, from Africa to Europe; from America to Asia,
all wasting lives and properties at colossal levels. Where lies
the natural goodness of man? Even Thomas Hobbes’ hypo-
thetical state of nature where life is nasty, brutish, and short and
man a wolf to his fellow man casts doubt to the claim of the
natural goodness of man. For the evils of our society to cease,
individuals need fundamental moral change. But this change
cannot be possible with the denial of the existence of a grand
moral norm or the moral law to which man’s action must con-
form. This denial of any moral law is another problem with
humanism with regards to its quest for human dignity.
The second major division in Manifesto II covers proposi-
tions three and four and relates mostly to philosophy. The third
proposition affirms that moral values derive their source from
human experience; that ethics is autonomous and situational,
needing no theological or ideological sanction; that ethics stems
from human needs and interest. This is a denial of any absolute
moral standard, any grand norm or moral law which should
define and regulate man’s actions and behaviours. The sum-
mary of this is that morality is relative and subjective. However,
this view is replete with contradictions and grave implications.
The humanists are right to point out that their ethics (morals)
are situational. Since they are based in and come forth from the
individual, they are necessarily self-centered and subjective.
They have no objective basis or root. On the surface this ap-
pears to promote one’s idea of the importance and power of
man. However, upon closer examination, we find flaws with
this view. If moral values are determined from human experi-
ence, there is no objective basis for calling anything right or
wrong. There is no such thing as intrinsic good or intrinsic evil.
Whether something is good or not depends on the context of the
individual or the group of like-minded individuals in the society.
On this basis could we condemn the society of Nazi Germany
for judging the moral value of Jewish life as worthless? Would
we have the right to call it bad? What if happiness in one soci-
ety is eating one’s enemy instead of convincing him to surren-
Humanism does not offer any absolute value system; there-
fore mankind has no absolute system of right and wrong. In
such an instance, why should I believe and accept the value
system of the group (society) of men who drafted and signed
Manifesto II? What compelling reason can they give me for
accepting their dogmatic ethical assertion that “vulgarization,
commercialization, bureaucratization, and dehumanization are
debasing”. What if I happen to believe that it is good to pro-
mote vulgarization, commercialization, bureaucratization and
dehumanization? In the same vein, in his critique of atheistic
humanism, Dukor writes,
Humanists say that every responsible human being should
be free to make his or her own choices and live their own
life-style, as long as they do not violate the freedom of
others. It would be impossible for humanists to force hu-
manism on other people or to persuade non-humanists, for
if they do, they will no longer be humanists (Dukor, 2010:
p. 71).
McDowell rejects the relative morality of humanists based on
its apparent contradiction and grave consequences. He writes:
The secular humanist position on relative moral values is
almost the watershed for critiquing humanistic tenets.
With no absolute ethic, why should we accept the human-
ists’ moral value that the individual person is precious and
deserves dignity in his own right? The Marxist, for exam-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ple argues that the individual only has worth as a member
of society. It is permissible indeed necessary, to expend
the individual for the society. Why isn’t the Marxist right?
How can the humanist infringe on the Marxist’s individ-
ual preciousness and dignity by telling him his view of
mankind is wrong (McDowell, 1983: p. 18).
McDowell further states that Humanist Manifesto II has a
contradictory statement about human sexuality; for while cham-
pioning the autonomy of individual sexual rights, the statement
also contradictorily makes bold universal moral assertions
about some kinds of sex. He further asks “what right do the
humanist signers of this manifesto have to say they do not ap-
prove of ‘exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression’ or
‘mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity’? What if an
individual likes such sexual activity? If the humanists were to
reply that such activity denies the rights of other parties, we
must ask, what right have the humanists to say that those other
rights should come before the particular individual’s rights?”
(McDowell, 1983).
So said, the humanists are against absolute moral values or
universal moral standards. In fact, the beginning of Manifesto II
declares that morals and values are relative and largely gov-
erned by society. Yet Humanist Manifesto II contains state-
ments that contradict and betray their position on absolute
moral values. Articles twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen of
Manifesto II express humanists’ views on one-world govern-
ment. Here are the articles and their theses:
Article Twelfth: “We deplore the division of human kind on
nationalistic grounds. We have reached a turning point in hu-
man history where the best option is to transcend the limits of
national sovereignty and to move toward the building of world
community in which all sectors of the human family can par-
ticipate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world
law and a world order based upon transnational federal gov-
Article Thirteen: This world community must renounce the
resort to violence and force as a method of solving international
disputes. We believe in the peaceful adjudication of differences
by international courts and by the development of the arts of
negotiation and compromise…
Article Fourteen: The world community must engage in co-
operative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting re-
sources. The planet earth must be considered a single ecosys-
tem. Ecological damage, resource depletion, and excessive
population growth must be checked by international concord.
The cultivation and conservation of nature is a moral value…
Article Fifteen: The problems of economic growth and de-
velopment can no longer be resolved by one nation alone; they
are world-wide in scope. It is the moral obligation of the de-
veloped nations to provide-through an international authority
that safeguards human right-massive, technical, agricultural,
medical, and economic, including birth control techniques, to
the developing portion of the globe.
In these four articles we find such absolute moral values as
“the best option is to transcend the limits of national sover-
eignty”, “belief in peaceful adjudication of differences by in-
ternational courts and by the development of the arts of nego-
tiation and compromise,” “the cultivation and conservation of
nature is a moral value” and “it is the moral obligation of the
developed nations to provide … massive … assistance, … to
the developing portion of the globe”.
So then, it will not be out of place to state that men live by
absolute ethics even if they claim to believe only in relative
ethics. One may claim (as the humanists do) that all ethics and
moral values are relative to one’s society or to the individual
conviction, but one rarely lives by such a maxim. This we have
found to be true amongst humanists. So, try as we may, we
cannot do away with the reality of absolute moral values or put
in another way, morality as a “given”. Why? Let us consider
the origin of our moral sense. From whence come our moral
sense? Francis Hutchenson, in the 18th century, proposed the
moral sense theory but his critics ridiculed the theory by mak-
ing it sound as if he has proposed an extra sense organ, such as
a moral ear, or moral nose, which could “perceive” the moral
qualities in actions and character traits. However, subsequent
theories, it appears, were not able to do away with the idea of a
capacity which appears to be universal among human beings,
the capacity to approve and appreciate certain kinds of human
conduct perceived as virtuous, and to disapprove of and dis-
courage certain other kinds seen as vicious.
Concerning the origin of our moral sense, Franz Brentano in
his work (1969) claims to discuss the Origin of our knowledge
of Right and Wrong. However Brentano, rather than identify
and establish the origin of our knowledge of right and wrong as
he claims in his work, the book discusses the “origin of the
concept of the good” which he ascribes to what he calls “intui-
tive presentations” (Brentano, 1969: p. 13). We however, wish
to state that morality is a “given”. By “giveness” we mean sim-
ply that the moral system, or morality, has the force and the
universality of being “given”, it is given to man qua man. Man
did not invent it. Thus, there is no purely naturalistic, humanis-
tic, positivistic or sociological theory that can explain morality
without an inexplicable residue. Proponents of positivistic or
sociological t heory of mora lity are t herefore me rely spec ulating
when they argue that there were “barbarians” who lived their
lives as human being without any moral order (Etuk, 2010). It
is of note that the same was said of Africans by Western schol-
ars, i.e. that traditional Africans had neither sense of morality
nor any sense of God etc. Today, it has been shown that it is not
only fallacious, and spurious but also supercilious. Such theo-
rists have not been able to identify when and where such bar-
barians lived, instead even in the best of the civilized and de-
veloped societies, some humans among them sometimes do
things that would embarrass the worst “barbarians” such as
poisoning hundreds of people in a communal mass suicide.
Apparently not satisfied by such theories, Udo Etuk (2010: p. 5)
asks, “Why should it be considered embarrassing for man to
admit that there is a “giveness” about morality that is higher
and more forceful than the society or the voice of parents? If it
is the voice of parents or of the society that we have in every
statement of “ought”, then whence did the parents or the society
derive it? Does it not appear that all of this is a vaguely veiled
effort to evade the necessity of coming to terms with the ques-
tion of the moral Lawgiver?”
God and not the individual or the society is the origin of our
knowledge of right and wrong. To reject this, as the humanists
have done, is to fall into the same error as the atheistic existen-
tialist who first of all dismisses God and then complains that he
is left in the world without a clue as to whence he came and
whither he goes. In an effort to resolve this old question of how
human beings come to have near-universal agreement in the
characterization of some kinds of conduct or traits as “virtuous”
and others as “vicious”, William Gass (1967: p. 526) says, “the
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moral hurdle has defied both the mathematical (i.e. intuitive/
deductive) method as well as the scientific or physical (i.e. the
empirical/inductive) method. The difficulty for the mathemati-
cal method is the discovery of indubitable moral first premises
which do not themselves rest on any inductive foundation and
which are still applicable to the complicated issue of factors
that make up moral behaviour”. On the empirical approach to
moral problems, Gass says,
It makes ethics a matter of expediency, taste, or confor-
mity to the moral etiquette of the time. One is told what
people do not what they ought to do; and those philoso-
phers who still wish to know what people ought to do are
told … that they are asking a silly question (Gass, 1967: p.
Etuk (1999: pp. 70-71) takes a strong stand against ethical
naturalism (which is supported by secular humanism) and after
attacking the theory that morality is nothing more than a social
product concludes that:
Naturalism in ethics has had a long life, going back to the
sophists in ancient Greece. But naturalism will always be
at a loss to explain the binding force of the moral law; the
insistence of the gnawing conscience; the universal hu-
man predicament which induces man whenever left to
himself to go wrong; the intractable problem of sin which
modern man has tried everything to escape from, but
which contemporary psychiatrists are beginning to come
to grips with; the joy and peace which come from the res-
toration of broken relationships; and many more things
which go into the making of an ethical life. Naturalism
will struggle but only in vain to get away from the fact
that morality can only be fully anchored in the nature of
the God who created man, and the entire universe, and
therefore, has absolute right to decide how his world
ought to be run.
So said, the essential giveness of the moral order presup-
poses that there is some kind of “Giver” contrary to the claim of
the humanists. That it is given discards the possibility of man
inventing it himself (therefore morality should not be relative to
man); and that it is universal suggests also that the giver has to
be a being who transcends cultures and societies. Perhaps it is
the problem of having to come to terms with the being of this
“Giver”, with his characteristics which necessitated his estab-
lishing such an order in the first place, which has led scholars to
invent all sorts of ways to circumvent him. But every attempt to
circumvent this obviously central question of morality, whether
it be the “intuitive presentations” of Brentano, or the ploy mak-
ing every rational being “a law-making member of a kingdom
of ends” (Kant), must falter.
The ethical views of secular humanists hold grave conse-
quences for human dignity and society at large. If objective
moral value is set aside and relative or subjective morality is
enthroned, then everyman becomes a lawgiver and if everyman
is a lawgiver, then everything is permitted. If everything is
permitted, it is not unlikely that we would soon experience
Thomas Hobbes’ hypothetical state of nature where life is nasty,
brutish and short, and every man a wolf to every other man. It
is not difficult to see that such a society or situation cannot and
will never guarantee the flowering of the dignity of man. Hu-
manism has introduced to us a new world view, a new social
and moral order. It is championing man’s unrestricted freedom
and liberty and everything is now permitted. The result is that
abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, rape, por-
nography, divorce and other forms of immoral and abnormal
behaviours are on the increase in our societies today. It is not
surprising because the essence of humanism is that man is the
measure of all things. Man, not God, is the determiner of reality,
meaning and ethics (Geisler, 1982). Take abortion for instance.
The humanist may approve of abortion on many grounds. It
may be on the ground of inconvenience to the mother (i.e. her
dreams, ambitions, economic reasons or that she is free to de-
termine what happens to her body) or the need to reduce popu-
lation explosion. But we ask, does it contribute to the dignity
and value of the individual human life to murder if it is incon-
venient, if it doesn’t fit into the world plan for conservation of
resources or if it just happens not to have been born yet?
Another danger humanism poses to the quest for the dignity
of the human person lies in its (humanism) evolutionary or
naturalistic view of man. Having rejected God, humanism
claims that man and indeed the entire universe is a product of
chance. Mortimer Adler (1973) warns that if man continues to
recognize no fundamental difference in kind between himself
and the world of animals and machines, then his view of him-
self in terms of his moral dilemma or his metaphysical being
must alter irretrievably. Anything left of contemporary concepts
of morality and identity will be reduced to the level of the illu-
sory, and the implications for individuals and for civilization
are far-reaching.
According to the evolutionary, naturalistic world view, man
is really no more than a sophisticated machine brought into
existence by chance. Does man, according to this view, have
value? No, not in the ordinary sense that people think of the
value of human life. That is because a machine, no matter how
sophisticated and unique, is still impersonal; it is still a machine.
And even if one thinks of man as a great animal—the pinnacle
of evolution—man is still just an animal. Very few secular
humanists advocate radical vegetarianism. Very few secular
humanists allow insects free reign on their homes and among
their crops. Brian Schwerthly (2006: p. 11) writes that, “It is
impossible to attribute a special, real, unique, lasting value to
human life, if man is a chance-derived, impersonal machine
destined to eternal extinction in the cosmic void. Human life
value presupposes an immortal human soul and a personal be-
ginning (i.e. creation by an infinite, personal God)”. The secu-
lar humanist cannot justify attributing human life value to an
impersonal, chance-derived machine. In the naturalistic system,
not only is man just a sophisticated machine, he is also destined
sooner or later to extinction when the universe inevitably ex-
pands into an icy death or contracts into a fiery ball. Secular
humanists cannot avoid this eschatology of death, of ultimate
We make bold to state that in the areas of origins, being and
eschatology (man’s ultimate future), secular humanism really
has nothing to offer except extinction into the cosmic void. The
Humanist Manifesto II does make an attempt at future meaning
for man when it speaks of man living on through children and
culture. But this living on cannot last beyond a supernova; it
cannot go beyond the death of the universe. But if in the end
every one who ever lived ceases forever to exist, then life is
meaningless, because if man’s soul does not live on it will be as
if no one ever existed. If morality is relative and if everything
about life ends here, then it may not be difficult to understand
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 139
why humanism leads to eugenics, abortion, euthanasia, labour
camps and genocide and these are man’s activities that are an
affront to human dignity and the pursuit of human well-being.
There is no gainsaying the fact that respect to the dignity of
man has become a necessity in our contemporary times given
the various abuses to the human personality. We noted also that
without respect to the dignity of man, the quest for human
well-being will end up as a mere wish without any hope of
realization. Atheistic humanists’ attempt at restoring human
dignity is therefore a bold step in the right direction. However,
as we have noted, their attempt is a quest in futility given the
logic of atheistic humanism. We choose to maintain with Dukor
(2010: p. 79) the sentiment “that humanism without theism
loses more than half of its values” and thus the capacity and the
virtues necessary for pursuing human dignity; and that “No
genuine humanism is possible which does not go beyond mere
humanism, i.e., to be really human, man must have his begin-
ning and end in God—humanity and deity are inseparably re-
lated” (Dukor, 2010: p. 79).
Since God is the source and ground for all human values and
thus human dignity (Aquinas, 1892; Gyekye, 1996), any at-
tempt to pursue the well-being of man in its totality outside
God or without reference to God, who is at the centre of human
affairs, will be doomed to failure. It is to be noted that in theis-
tic humanism the spiritual element is the source of human val-
ues. Dukor (2010: p. 79) recognizes, with Rajkhanna and Sell-
ers, the truth that human values are rooted in the spiritual and
not essentially scientific. Any humanism therefore that must
pursue human dignity must, as Dukor puts it, “be wedded to the
cause of human values and must not admit anything that is
destructive of human values”. Atheistic humanism (which uses
solely the scientific method) is concerned to explore the world
of values and on that logic therefore cannot promote the cause
of man who is a value-laden being. It is obvious that man is not
fully satisfied with only the attainment of worldly aspirations
and goals. He aspires for and becomes conscious of the beyond
and in his quest for giving his aspirations and personality full
expression he goes beyond the physical and the mechanical
level and enters into a spiritual level.
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