Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why I am A Secular Humanist Part 1

     Humanism is not necessarily fashionable as a position in philosophical circles anymore, such is the influence of postmodernism.  Humanism, with its emphasis on reason and science, is throw-back to modernism, to philosophy unencumbered by the influence of currents of more recent Continental Philosophy.  Indeed, the fact that humanists use the word 'human' suggests a universal definition of the 'human' that we are told has been manufactured by western powers to legitimate certain forms of power.  So, how can someone who has absorbed Nietzsche and is especially fond of Foucault, able to take the humanist position?  That is the question I am going to try to answer in the next few posts.

     There is no doubt that Nietzsche was a great genius.  He was certainly one of the great stylists.  He paints a disturbing picture of the modernism of the 19th Century.  He plumbs its emptinesses, reveals the nihilism implied by what he saw as the conventional values of his time.  In fact, I completely agree with many of his comments, particularly those regarding religion.  He skewers religion as a life-denying, life-hating, stance.  He unmasks the otherworldly escapism of the history of philosophy since the time of Socrates, the refuge taken in the Forms or the Absolute or God.  Everyone should Read The Twilight of the Idols.  It is a refreshing, challenging book.

     Where Nietzsche and I part ways is his critique of Reason and Science.  When I was in grad school in Philosophy in the early 1990s, the Academy was still in the throws of what has become known as the Science Wars.  This has largely dissipated over the last 20 years.  It is clear to me that the scientists have won the day.  While Science may not be able to tell us the ultimate nature of "really real reality"(as PDQ Bach would say), it is remarkably successful.  I think many people outside of the sciences don't quite realize how careful, how peer-reviewed, is the mainstream of Science. 

I'll give you an example, everybody's favorite, Evolution.  When I was an Anabaptist, there were many I knew in the Church who rejected Evolution in favor of Intelligent Design.  Having an open mind I began to study the evidences for Evolution and compared that evidence against the arguments of the Intelligent Design group.  I read both sides, doing my best to give both sides its due.  I considered all the arguments as carefully as I could.  The result of this investigation was, a great enhancement of my understanding of Biology, and the conclusion that the arguments for UNGUIDED evolution were absolutely overwhelming.

Over the last two decades since I left grad school in Philosophy I became a Mathematician, but never lost my taste for Philosophy.  I have concluded from my exposure to Science and Mathematics that Scientific Progress is neither an idol nor a failed narrative, it is a fact.  Indeed, if Nietzsche's illness really was Syphilis, modern medicine could cure him now.

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