Thesis Number: #3 (Page 8 of 10)

The Humanist Problem

Sustained empirical research originated with the ancient Greeks, but since then science has endured a precarious status. Our world cannot now exist without that methodology, but its practitioners do need to be humble. Empiricism can still derive the clues it needs from religion (see Box 1). The point is this: for early humans to evolve out of nature, they had to deploy their intelligence as best they could to define their relationship to the planet. They cultivated the capacity for asking awkward questions – the first step in the scientific method – about empirical facts which they wanted to understand. Their thought processes, framed in the language and vision of divine life, yielded knowledge that made intuitive sense (McCauley 2011). Those early humans could not wait around for spontaneous combustion to produce the scientific mode of reasoning; had they done so, our species would have fallen victim to the Neanderthals.

Box 1

Babylonian Creation Myths

Science relies on clues that might eventually shape hypotheses that can be tested in the laboratory. Take the case of the origins of humans. Tablets excavated from Mesopotamian city sites recount various versions of Babylonian creation stories, in which deities mixed blood with clay to form people. In the second chapter of Genesis, the narrative is recounted in these terms: “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground…” (Heidel 1942: 118-119). Now, according to experiments by Cornell University biological engineers, clay might have been the birthplace of life on Earth (reported in the journal Scientific Reports, November 7, 2013).

To resolve the hostility that ruptures science from religion, choices have to be made. An understanding of one kind or another must be reached if we are to avoid another Dark Age.

Humanists are free to pronounce the divine life as redundant. But that does not relieve them of the need to search the heavens in wonder and ask the questions posed by our ancestors: what is the nature of the universe? And, to facilitate further social evolution, they would still be confronted with the primary question about the land on which our social galaxy rests: who owns it? If you are the lord of the land, then I am your servant; and that negates the notion of equality.

Our social galaxy is inextricably bound up with the natural universe, which is why we cannot avoid the issue of property rights posed in Genesis and elaborated on by Jesus. The intersection is materialised through the medium of economic rent. That stream of value is composed of the services provided by nature and by our communities. Community services are composed of all the investments of past generations, including language, morality, the physical infrastructure that underpins settlements, the arts…they all combine to create a value that merges with the value we assign to the riches of nature. That composite value is assessed at each and every location occupied by every person on Earth.

We are born into the natural universe as atoms, but we are converted into social beings through access to the legacy inherited from our ancestors. If we abuse that legacy by monopolising it – to exclude others – we trigger the decadence that terminates the human project.

Can humanism come up with the correct answers to who owns that value (the composite of nature and society)? Can humanism deploy the psycho-social tools needed to enforce compliance without the rituals of religion (rituals for reaffirming the Covenant are recounted in Deuteronomy: Dowley, n.d.: §16)? So far, such exercises (notably the communist experiments of the 20th century) have failed.

© 2023 Fred Harrison. Our Privacy Policy.