According to the Council for Secular Humanism, secular humanism is a “comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance” based on naturalism and the ethics of consequences. Secular humanists do not operate on faith in God and believe that humans must set their own values and meanings based on science and beneficial outcomes. Secular humanists may include atheists, agnostics, skeptics and/or freethinkers; however, the movement goes further by committing to values that improve human welfare in the world.
Secular humanism is based on the principle that each individual must examine beliefs and ideologies for themselves and not just accept or reject them on faith alone. According Paul Kurtz of the Center for Inquiry, “We are not anti-religious, we are non-religious … It’s not about what you are against, but what are you for.” While humanism is a philosophy that is concerned with the ideas and philosophies of people and may include religion or religious elements, secular humanism takes the philosophy out of the sphere of the spiritual or sacred and bases its tenets on the world that can be seen and measured.
Secular humanism is based on a naturalistic philosophy. Naturalism is concerned with the physical world and is based on observing phenomena through the scientific method. Secular humanists believe that humans evolved into self-aware, moral beings and were not designed by a deity or supernatural being. They also believe that humans are integral members of the natural world and thereby subject to the rules of nature. Secular humanists are focused on this life and do not concern themselves with notions of immortality, heaven or an afterlife.
Secular humanists base their ideals on a cosmic outlook of the universe that can be observed or explained by science. A commitment to facts, evidence and reason are important tenets. In the constant search for objective truth, secular humanists recognize that new facts and evidence will emerge through scientific investigation and may alter our knowledge of how the world works. Therefore, the secular humanist is always open to reinterpretations of current understandings.
Secular humanists don’t believe that ethics should be defined by a divine authority or prescribed religious notions of good and bad or right and wrong. They believe instead that ethics should be based on consequentialism: the results they achieve in everyday lives. According to Paul Kurtz, secular humanism should encourage moral awareness and growth. While secular humanists feel that each individual should be responsible for their own values, there are certain principles that each person and political system should strive towards. These principles are based upon social justice, fairness and the ability to improve the lives of humans and the world.
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